My basic assumption is that a word is used to convey information. If a word is used in an uncommon situation, it should be possible to explain it. If it is not explainable, it does not convey information. If a group of people use the same word and are in agreement of using it, but cannot explain what the word means, their agreement is meaningless, because, how do they know they agree?
I found this Swedish thesis. It’s unfortunately, in Swedish, but, the author, quoting various wine celebrities (Goode and Easton to name the first mentioned), lists the following as mineral aromas: earthiness, petroleum, kerosene, rubber, tar, smoke, stone/steel, lime stone, flint, and wet wool. Oh dear. That is quite a list. It roundly sums up things that in no other circumstances would be considered minerals, e g, wet wool and rubber, and things that, simply put, do not smell (stone, flint, lime stone). It adds things that are less than well-defined such as ‘smoke’. Smoke, as in, smoke from an open fire, differs in smell contingent on what burns. Firwood smoke and birchwood smoke do not smell the same. Burning plastic normally gives a very pungent smoke, that has little in common with smoke from birchwood.
Anyway, by admitting the alleged smell of substances that do not normally occur in bedrock as ‘mineral aromas’, the expression has lost all sense.
Another, again Swedish, text with a fair amount of vehemence claims that, if you do not accept that the ‘minerals’ directly influence the grape juice and resulting wine, you have renounced on the concept of terroir (which is a non sequitur), but, if you do, you may “drink the meagre limestone mountain, the white chalk, the hard granite, and the flakey sunburnt shale”. Unfortunately, limestone and chalk are both calcium carbonate, an odorless substance, while granite is a composite of quartz (SiO2) and feldspar (various silicates) which are also odorless, while shale is in most cases, yes, odorless. If these things smell, it is because of what has precipitated on them.
Going back to the Swedish thesis, a test is made where a group of professionals taste two wines, blind, one of which allegedly is mineral, one is not. They do identify the mineral one as mineral – they are then interviewed on their perception of minerality (hint: they do not agree). Thesis concludes that wines with high acidity, from Northern, poor (as in, not fertile) vineyards, are more likely to be considered mineral, and, a lack of fruit, particularly exotic fruit. Also, the concept of minerality in wine is a mark of quality (that seems legit – in no report have I seen ‘mineral’ expressed as a pejorative).
This is when I stumble on a real, scientific method, deep dive into what might be minerality. A Spanish group has worked on 17 wines, considered to be mineral, and made actual analyses on what might be the compounds in them that give the expression of mineral. Not only that, they have then used this information and tweaked alcoholic beverages, using the same compounds, and investigated these (using two groups of tasters) for their expression of minerality.
This was interesting: dividing the prime suspects into three groups, “Routine parameters”, “Pre-fermentative aromas”, and “Aging aromas”, a total of twelve substances were grouped. Of these, high acidity, SO2, and succinic acid, made up the first group. Does this in any way relate to terroir? Answer, in my opinion, is yes. Terroir is not only the bedrock on which the vineyard rests. Terroir is, and here I will quote “Gouttes des Dieu”, “earth, heaven, and man”. I don’t think the incumbent Chapoutier is the only one to say so, but, “without man, there is no terroir”. Succinic acid certainly is dependent on both local traditions (degree of turbidity in the fermenting juice), local yeast, and available nitrogen in the fermenting juice. Less nitrogen, more succinic acid, apparently, all else being equal.
The article also gives credence to Hugh Johnson’s hypothesis, that minerality is related to SO2. I found the book, by the way, but then misplaced it again.
The remaining compounds are all carbon based substances, esters, alcohols, others. Some come from the unfermented juice, some apparently derive from cellaring. While doubtless the soil and climate will influence the content of aromatics in the grape juice, none of these can be traced back to pieces of rock in the ground. None of them.
While I really like the way the researchers have gone about their work, I would prefer that somebody who knows his/her statistics look into the methods used, and the sample sizes. It would of course be even better if somebody independently tried to reproduce the results.
I, for my part, will henceforth refer to a taste enhancing, final salinity, on the tongue, as ‘mineral’, with the tacit assumption that what I really taste is succinic acid.
As for the olfactory sensation of minerality, I will bow to Dubourdieu’s usage.
Finished with the M-word.